Monday, March 14, 2016

Janet Frame leaves an impression

The Gift

by Cilla McQueen

When I was at school we walked
two by two in a green crocodile,
with numerous legs the colour of
peanut butter, green mossy hats on top
and on each hat a dove.

I rejoiced in a group of trusty friends
who have lasted all my life.
We found boys pretty fascinating.
Wise teachers instilled in us the art
of listening, inside and out.

I struggled with the Pythagoras,
enjoyed the Law of Moments,
glimpsed history's deep currents
beneath the surface of the present,
learned languages, loved poetry.

In the school library, I first
encountered Janet Frame. One day
walking home along Highgate, reading
'The Edge of the Alphabet' (I think)
I collided with a lamp-post.

At the heart of it all is Columba,
a saint's faith shining from an open book,
a beacon. Sacred his gift
to the island-dwellers: a simple church,
the habit of prayer.

Poet Cilla McQueen's tribute to her school days at Columba College in Dunedin has been published to mark the college's centennial celebrations. Cilla kindly sent me a copy of the poem and gave permission for it to be reproduced here. She said:

" Sending you this to show that Janet Frame's work had quite an impact on my literary development!"

I recently posted Elizabeth Smither's report on her NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award. Cilla McQueen is another of the former New Zealand Poet Laureates who is happy to acknowledge her debt to Janet Frame's influence and example.

Janet Frame's contribution to an aspiring poet's career did not always deliver such a physical impact!

 Cilla McQueen's memoir In a Slant Light is to be published this month by Otago University Press.


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